Hundreds of fishermen Lamu have taken to to protest over what they say is an invasion of their territory by others from other regions and from neighbouring Tanzania.
They have also protested against the use of nets for fishing by the “invaders".
During the Tuesday morning protests, the fishermen are strongly opposed to the ring net fishing method, insisting that it destroys corals and catches young fish.
RING NET FISHING
The controversial ring net system of fishing, also described as Lampara netting or purse seine, is believed to have originated from the Tanzanian islands of Pemba and Zanzibar and was introduced to the Kenyan coast in the late 1980s and early 1990s, mainly in Vanga and Gazi.
Ring nets are a long continuous stretches of netting measuring about 300 metres in length and set depth of about 25 to 30 metres.
They are used to encircle a school of fish, usually in the deep sea waters outside the reef and they are normally operated by motorboats using crews of between 30 and 40 fishermen.
The protesting fishermen said ring net fishing system has in recent times become a thorny issue in the region and now want the method to be completely banned in Lamu.
During the demonstrations, the fishermen walked for about two kilometres from the Lamu Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) jetty to the Ministry of Fisheries offices near Shella where they submitted their petition.
They demanded for an immediate ban on the ring net system of fishing as well as equipping the fisher folk across the Lamu archipelago with modern equipment.
Led by Lamu Fishermen and Dealers Organisation Chairman Abubakar Twalib, they gave the Lamu County government four days to ensure that the issues are fully addressed.
“As Lamu fishermen, we don’t want ring net system of fishing to be used in our region because it completely destroys the habitat for the fish and their food. Ring net method of fishing has already destroyed fishing in Malindi, Kilifi and Mayungu. We’re already suffering here in Lamu due to the effects brought about by the Lamu Port dredging activities at Kililana and Manda Bay and we’ve not even been compensated yet.
“It’s even worse to see Tanzanian fishermen invading our areas of fishing including Kipungani and Pate Island while using ring nets. Who is allowing these fishermen to apply such a destructive fishing system in the first place? We want the government to completely ban ring net use in Lamu or else we will be forced to take the law in our own hands by going forward to search for those fishermen using the system and destroying their ring nets,” said Mr Twalib.
Mr Furaha Kitsao, a fisherman, said it is unfortunate that those using ring nets in the Indian Ocean waters in Lamu are not even fishing in designated areas.
“I am aware that ring netting is supposed to be done only over 15 nautical miles from the land so that it does not interfere with us as the ordinary fishermen as well as our fish breeding grounds. But as we speak, the ring netters who have invaded Lamu don’t consider operating within those designated areas. They do ring netting anywhere and we’re worried they might push us out of business. Let the government stop them. We’re not comfortable with them,” said Mr Kitsao.
Mr Abdul Muhaj said ring nets are generally destructive to the marine ecosystem and questioned why the county government cannot formulate legislation that would see that method of fishing completely banned in Lamu.
“Ring net is a destructive method of fishing and it doesn’t in any way protect the marine ecosystem. It endangers the lives of fish and other marine life. If things will proceed like that here in Lamu, breeding grounds for many fish species will be destroyed and this will deal a big blow to us who earn a livelihood from the ocean,” said Mr Muhaj.
Mr Omar Abdalla called on the national government to intervene and stop the invasion of the local fish markets by Tanzanian and Somali fishermen.
He also called on the county government to help by formulating laws that will prohibit foreigners from fishing in and selling their catch within the Lamu waters.
On his part, Haki Africa Organisation Lamu Branch Coordinator Issack Yunus called on the government to urgently intervene and ensure all the grievances by the Lamu fishermen are fully addressed so that their social and economic livelihoods are not affected.
Over 90 percent of Lamu residents depend on fishing for survival, either directly or indirectly.
But majority of the fishermen still use traditional methods of catching fish.
These include the use of dhows instead of high powered speed boats that can enable them work more efficiently and expand the fishing business.